DETROIT, Mich. — Chicago All-Star guard Zach LaVine got the new-look Bulls off to a flying start this season by dropping 34 points, seven rebounds and four assists to lead them past the Detroit Pistons, 94-88, in their opener on Wednesday night.
After igniting a third-quarter rally with 15 of his points and then adding eight more in the fourth, he sat next to new teammate DeMar DeRozan during postgame interviews with added confidence, saying he is only looking ahead, not back at 2020-21.
“This ain’t last year. We’re looking forward now,” LaVine said of the revamped Bulls, who also added Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso to the roster. “It’s a whole new team. A whole new mindset. So, I’m excited that we grinded that one out. A win’s a win.”
The win gave the Bulls their first season-opening triumph since 2016-17.
And for LaVine, it marked the second time he has recorded 30 points in a Bulls’ season opener, joining Michael Jordan (7 times) and Artis Gilmore (2 times) as the only players in franchise history to do that on multiple occasions, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“The shots that he made and things that he does with athletically and talent wise, I think people have seen that for years,” said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. “He’s always kind of had that. I think he’s looking at things through a different lens. His voice is there. There’s a different message coming from him in a really, really different way. He sees things in a different way now, based off his experiences.”
Donovan also credits LaVine’s Olympic experience over the summer of winning a gold medal for Team USA and being around those elite level of NBA players during the 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta with helping his maturation process.
Entering the year, LaVine told ESPN that this season would be “crucial” for the direction of the franchise, plus his own future, while entering the final year of his contract.
He elaborated on these thoughts after Wednesday’s game, saying that he’s been a part of teams for much of his career that were rebuilding but said he’s “thankful” for the new faces as the Bulls look to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season — and the first-ever such appearance of his career.
“I’m always confident. I put the work in but having this dude next to me (DeMar DeRozan), having Vooch next to me, that just makes me more confident and more ready to play,” LaVine said. “We have a bunch of dogs on the team now and guys that will step up for each other so I’m really excited, but a win’s a win and we’re going to go forward from here.”
DeMar DeRozan, shorthanded Chicago Bulls hand Brooklyn Nets ‘bad, tough loss’
NEW YORK — With DeMar DeRozan drawing James Harden and Kevin Durant with him on a drive into the paint, Lonzo Ball was all alone on the right wing as he launched a 3, crouched in anticipation and then turned toward courtside fans behind him after drilling a late dagger against the Brooklyn Nets.
Down four rotation players due to health and injuries, the Chicago Bulls continued their surprising start to the season by erasing an 11-point third-quarter deficit to give the Nets a stinging 111-107 loss at Barclays Center on Saturday night.
The Bulls (16-8) have won three straight games and leave New York having beaten the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and the Nets at Barclays Center on this road trip. This is also the second time this season that the Bulls outplayed the preseason favorite to win the Eastern Conference in the fourth quarter to hand the Nets a bitter loss, clinching the season series between the two teams.
“You want to be the best, you got to beat the best,” said DeRozan, who picked the Nets apart with 13 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. “Everybody talks about being best but you got to go out there. No matter if you are shorthanded, you want to be the best, you got to go out there and compete against the best.”
The Bulls entered the game shorthanded with Javonte Green and Coby White in health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19. With Patrick Williams (left wrist) already out, the Bulls started Alex Caruso at power forward but he was later ruled out due to a hamstring injury that was bothering him entering the game. Bulls coach Billy Donovan said it was a medical decision to pull Caruso and that he did not know how long Caruso might be sidelined.
The Nets (16-7) looked at this game as a big test for them. They were shorthanded themselves with Joe Harris (ankle) and James Johnson (shoulder) out to go along with Kyrie Irving, who is not with the team. But they were looking to settle a score after losing, 118-95, in Chicago on Nov. 8 and get a quality win over one of the top teams in the conference.
Brooklyn led 71-60 with 6:34 left in the third and appeared to be in control. But that cushion was gone by the 9:28 mark in the fourth. Durant scored nine of his 28 points in the fourth quarter but Harden struggled with his shot, missing 5-of-6 shots in the fourth. The Nets defense allowed Chicago to shoot 52.2% in the fourth quarter. Chicago also enjoyed a 27-to-9 advantage in free-throw attempts for the game.
“We just gotta go out there and play with some force and confidence, like we want to win,” Durant said. “And understand it’s a long game, and just stick with the game plan. It’s a bad, it’s a tough loss. … We didn’t take advantage of being up nine-10 points. We just let them stay in the game and we were supposed to just bury them.”
Harden, who recently admitted he is having difficulty finding balance between being more of a playmaker versus when to be a scorer with Irving not playing, shot just 5-of-21 overall before finishing with 14 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds.
“Blame this one on me,” said Harden. “I had a lot of opportunities at the rim that I didn’t convert that could have settled this game down.”
Durant said he should’ve helped Harden more by making more shots.
“That would’ve took pressure off of him,” Durant said.
At the end, the Nets watched another struggling shooter make the game’s biggest shot. After Durant cut the deficit to 107-105 with a 3-pointer, DeRozan drove and drew Harden and Durant with him in the paint. DeRozan found Ball alone on the right wing and the point guard delivered the dagger 3, just his second of the game. Ball finished 3-for-10 overall and just 2-for-7 from behind the arc.
Ball — who had eight points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three blocks against the Nets — also missed 8-of-10 3-point shots in Thursday’s win over the Knicks. But the Bulls continue to develop chemistry and trust in one another as they moved to within half a game of the Nets for the lead in the East.
“It says a lot about our team,” DeRozan said of the wins against the Knicks and Nets. “How resilient. How we approach challenges. We don’t shy away from them. We accept them.
“… It is difficult to win in this league, especially coming into two hostile environments on the road, playing against two teams and the best team in our conference, to withstand the blow that we took from them throughout the whole game, to buckle down in the fourth quarter and pull out a victory.”
Chicago Bulls’ Javonte Green tests positive for COVID-19, joins Coby White in protocols
Charlotte had four players enter health and safety protocols on Saturday.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan said before his team faced the Nets in Brooklyn Saturday night that Green had driven back to Chicago on Friday, and was feeling all right. He added that Chicago expects to continue daily testing in the wake of multiple positive tests, and that he anticipates the league continuing to tighten its protocols as time goes by.
“I think that’s happening,” Donovan said of the protocols getting stricter. “I don’t think there’s any question that’s happening. I think there’s going to be, my guess would be, stricter policies than there have been this year. To your point, I think Thanksgiving and you’re dealing with Christmas and then New Year’s … people are going to be around family. I think that the way it’s moving right now is it’s getting a little more stricter.
“Certainly for us right now it’s a lot stricter because we’ve got two players who are positive.”
Donovan also praised his players for how they’ve handled the twists and turns of the situation over the past several days.
“Well, we’re not the only ones dealing with it,” Donovan said, “but the only guys I can respond to our our guys, and our guys have been class acts, totally professional. I think they’ve handled whatever has come their way. We’re not the only team that’s dealing with it, that’s had to deal with it.
“I think there was obviously some hope and some optimism we kind of passed this going into the season. That certainly hasn’t happened. But our guys have handled it, and the whole thing about you have to control what you can control. There’s a lot of inconveniences, things can get frustrating and annoying and you worry about are you infected or are you healthy, and you’ve got a couple teammates and guys on the team who have tested positive, so I’m sure some of that stuff goes through those guys’ minds.”
Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo to miss second game with calf soreness
It’s the second straight game Antetokounmpo has been sidelined because of the injury, which kept him out of the second half of a back-to-back on Thursday in Toronto. Budenholzer said then he was hopeful this would be just a short-term issue.
“We’ll just take it day by day,” Budenholzer said Saturday. “See how it goes”
The Bucks’ roster has been hampered by injuries and illnesses since the start of the season, but they had won eight of their past nine games entering Saturday to storm back into the mix at the top of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
In 21 games this season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.6 points and 11.8 rebounds while collecting a career-high 6.0 assists and 1.7 blocks.
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